Penis Head meets Pussy Face in the first of two unfortunate franchise crossovers.
Who made it?: Paul W.S. Anderson (Director/Writer), Gordon Carroll, John Davis, David Giler, Walter Hill (Producers), Brandywine Productions/Davis Entertainment/20th Century Fox.
Who’s in it?: Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon.
Tagline: “Whoever Wins… We Lose.”
IMDb rating: 5.4/10.
Science fiction nerds waited for AVP: Alien vs. Predator with bated breath, happy in the knowledge that Fox were finally making it a reality. I was one of them, if only because I’d grown attached to the related comic books by Dark Horse and the PC game was pretty bitchin’ (let’s not mention the recent console version). Also, I was still in my teens back then, and a complete idiot by any rational definition. My love of Alien and Predator might have made me wary of such a crass commercial branding, but there was always the chance that it would be fun. Surely it couldn’t be that bad? I mean… aliens and predators! Fighting!
The final film, however, was one ugly motherfucker. Love it or loathe it (you really should loathe it), the movie is destined for cult appreciation and geek purchase no matter how disappointing. I’m ashamed to say this piss stain sits in my collection, if only out of some need to own everything franchise-related. To defend my good name, you will surely agree that AvP offers more than its sequel, which could be the cinematic offspring of herpes. We’re treading on thin ice here.
The story whisks us off to Antarctica where the Weyland Corporation is scanning for hidden mineral deposits. Instead of finding those, the tech-heads uncover something much more interesting – an ancient pyramid hidden two thousand feet below the ice. It’s a discovery Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) has been waiting for. A billionaire industrialist, his legacy will later give birth to the sinister Weyland-Yutani Corporation that plagued Ellen Ripley (but that isn’t for another two-hundred years). He deploys his right-hand man, Maxwell Stafford (Colin Salmon), who assembles a crack-team of professionals suitable for this “expedition.” No, not Tony Robinson and the gang from Time Team, but a group of stereotypes so familiar they might as well be mannequins in disguise. They’re about to become walking targets distinguished by body heat.
Leading this rag-tag group is Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), an experienced mountain climber who is used to surviving in perilous conditions. It is her job to help protect archaeology professor Sebastian de Rosa (Raoul Bova), expert driller Mark Verheiden (Tommy Flanagan), Stafford, and Scottish science buff Graham Miller (Trainspotting‘s Ewen Bremner). However, as the group descends into the heart of the pyramid, shit gets real. They’re in the middle of an ancient war between the xenomorph race and the sporting “Predators” (they never have given us a real name for them have they?). The latter have been breeding the aliens to hunt, returning to Earth every hundred years to engage in this ritual, and find out which species is number one.
As with the similarly-pitched Freddy vs. Jason (2003), the making of the film wields a more interesting story than the one on-screen. The idea behind Alien Vs. Predator is pretty old in cult circles, appearing in just about every form of media possible (I even remember a lunchbox design back in the day). Everyone knows where the concept came from, and critics never tire of mentioning Stan Winston’s “gag” on the set of Predator 2. Imagine how different things would have been had he not thrown an Alien skull into the Predator’s trophy cabinet. It was a notion that made fans tingle. They wanted the movie and fast. Those popular comic books by Dark Horse merely tossed petrol onto the bonfire. After what seemed like fifty screenwriters delivering their own draft of the picture, Fox decided to give the reigns to Paul W.S. Anderson. Suddenly, everyone from Toronto to Timbuktu was squealing in horror. Anderson? The “auteur” behind Mortal Kombat was making AvP? Is there any justice in the world?
But I won’t turn this review into another Anderson tirade. It’s old news. To cut a long story short, AvP is a mediocre film, with enough action and special effects to rouse, but no substance to impress or maintain a second viewing. It’s the type of movie that you forget about upon leaving your seat. In fact, it’s a decent example of the modern blockbuster – deliver a story with less consistency than your popcorn, and with a stench of commercialism so thick it makes a Herta hot dog seem desirable. But I’d be a real Barry Norman if I didn’t admit to liking some of this movie. It’s deeply flawed for sure, but it isn’t without merits.
As an action blockbuster, AvP does its job with machine-like efficiency, providing a neat guide to economical storytelling. The combination of these franchises actually works very well indeed, and Anderson is clearly a fan of both. It makes total sense for the Predators to use Aliens for sport – what better way to train a hunter? The pyramid idea also has some mileage, with the Predators forcing our ancient civilisations to act as hosts for the xenomorphs (the few shots of an Aztec-style community, relenting to their every whim, is a glimpse of what AvP could have been). Alas, the film is crippled through murky exposition, poor dialogue, non-existent characterisation, and a lack of gore. The latter isn’t mandatory, but in a film of this type the absence of grisly violence is a major downside. Anderson maintains that he wanted a gory picture, but I just don’t believe him. It’s clear from every edit in every death scene that the camera was supposed to turn away – even a direct shot of a chest-bursting lacks blood. Only the fluorescent glow of a Predator’s injuries passes as gruesome, and umpteen shots of an Alien’s acid insides meeting with its opponent’s flesh. This was a PG-13 from the get-go, and even the “Extended Cut” on the DVD fails to get nasty.
Yet the big problems with AvP are mostly script-related. As I’ve stated before, Anderson is no writer. The concept of the film is poorly handled with no time spent on mounting tension or mood. The film zips from scene to scene, with plenty of tired exposition but little conviction. I didn’t expect the film to be intelligent, but the screenplay is just too lousy – Anderson wants to get to the action as soon as possible, sacrificing any form of character development as a result. All of the Alien pictures took their time to give characters a solid place in the narrative, and we cared about them as a result. So did the adrenaline-heavy Predator films. There’s no-one here that would qualify as a Hicks, a Hudson or a Dutch. The film is also missing a Ripley. Lathan is out of her league trying to fit into the Sigourney Weaver mould, and when Anderson is your screenwriter, it’s safe to say that any depth will fall victim to the delete key. Thankfully, none of the actors here are bad, but the director treats them as mere props. The main attraction of this movie is the title, not the cast.
As expected, Henriksen is the most memorable presence. His casting is one of the film’s more inspired choices, allowing AvP to boast a shred of franchise continuity, even if his place in the tale is of little importance. Still, Henriksen is an actor that commands the attention and the film improves whenever he’s on-screen. But little can be said about Salmon and Bremner – two talented thesps from the UK who are given paper-thin roles. Why go to the trouble of casting “name” actors if you don’t use them? Perhaps it helped to market the movie but I doubt it. The core audience for this flick wouldn’t care.
Remarkably, the main strength of the film is attributed to Anderson. AvP is visually-striking – a competent marriage of photography, set design and direction. Anderson certainly knows how to compose a shot, and there’s plenty of money moments to keep fans engaged. While the movie would have been better-suited to an open environment, the pyramid is a great example of creative design. Complex and full of booby traps, it allows the film to remain interesting no matter how repetitive the action gets. Anderson also uses visuals to tip his hat to either franchise. The opening satellite shot is a good example – emerging out of the dark, it looks like the Alien Queen, until we get close enough. It’s a nice touch, as is the moment when Weyland casually passes a pen between his fingers (echoing the famous scene from Aliens). Elsewhere, he has played with the formula, upsetting purists. Stan Winston’s team made changes to the Predator’s visage, and even the heat vision moments are different. Still, that’s nothing when you consider the director’s ignorance toward the Alien life-cycle. The gestation period for a human host has been dramatically reduced, with the creatures spawning in no time at all. The reason, clearly, is for Anderson to move the “plot” along as quickly as possible. For long-time fans like myself, this is simply unforgivable.
Which brings me neatly to the point of the movie – the battle between the terrible twosome. After years of build-up, umpteen comic book tales, and a growing fanbase, the only way I can describe the resulting skirmish is “underwhelming.” Anderson really did drop the ball here on a pretty severe level. The selling-point of the picture was to see them fight, and the action scenes are forgettable. They function pretty well – it’s a lot of fun to see the Predator swinging an Alien 360º by its tail, or an Alien pinning an unsuspecting hunter between the eyes. It’s also kinda cool to see a facehugger pouncing in bullet-time, but at the end of the day, there is little here that sets the pulse racing. There’s no fear factor either, and the conclusion is decidedly weak, with Anderson wasting the Alien Queen’s potential. She was more of a bad-ass when she was a puppet.
AvP disappoints on the most basic level, sealing its fate. It’s not a good Alien movie, and it isn’t a good Predator movie. For the first time, Fox’s premier monsters were stopped dead in their tracks…
The first tussle between Alien and Predator hits all the right cheap shots. Sadly there’s no embeddable video. How about a death scene montage instead?
- This film had both the shortest filming and post-production schedules of any “major studio” film in 2004; filming was given 2 1/2 months, while post-production was given just 4 months to complete.
- Paul W.S. Anderson stepped down from directing Resident Evil: Apocalypse to write and direct this film.
- Except for scenes with stand-ins, Ian Whyte played all of the Predators. He was the first Predator actor since Kevin Peter Hall who died in 1991.
- The theatrical trailer includes soundbite samples from the original trailer for Alien and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) screaming.
- At one stage both Peter Weller and Gary Busey were approached to do a cameo as John Yutani, the other founder of the infamous “Weyland-Yutani” Company from the “Alien” films, but Yutani was written out of the script. The character was later used in the sequel, AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem, this time as a female.
- When Lex asks Sebastian how to say “scared shitless” in Italian, he replies “Non vedo l’ora di uscire da questa piramide con te, perché mi sto cagando addosso.” Translated, this literally means “I can’t wait to get out of this pyramid with you, because I’m shitting myself.”
- In an interview, Anderson said that Arnold Schwarzenegger offered to reprise his role as Dutch Schaeffer (from Predator) at the end of this movie as a cameo, but only if he lost the election for California governor.